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Half Agile Ain’t Agile

Brian Sondergaard Chief Innovation Officer
Reading: Half Agile Ain’t Agile

The world of Agile has continued to evolve for decades, and many businesses are achieving legitimate business Agility. I’ve been testing out a short definition of “Business Agility”… what do you think?

The ability to produce better business outcomes
by connecting strategy to execution
in ways that enable faster and more accurate
across the enterprise

True business Agility is about creating value and achieving better business outcomes. It’s not about adopting a process or methodology, but rather about getting clear on what your customers need and how you’re going to optimize your organization to create the greatest possible value for them.

It’s about having the ability to measure progress and make economic trade-offs that optimize value – even as your markets shift and your organizational conditions evolve. It’s ultimately about aligning your systems and teams to your markets and customers… and creating the ability to put more value into market faster than your competition. 

That’s a big challenge. Easy to say. Hard to do. At least given where we are today. And what I’ve come to see as one of the biggest challenges is the way Agile is framed across much of the market. Agile is often viewed as something that mostly applies to product development or more generally to the operations/execution side of the house. That narrow application has Agile “trapped,” making it that much more difficult to realize the promise of business Agility and competitive advantage. 

Here’s what I mean.

Agile Is Trapped

  • Many organizations see Agile as something a lot like scrum at the individual team level. If you think about the end-to-end flow from strategy to execution, Agile is often living deep inside the teams that are responsible for execution – it’s far-right.
  • This is logical given where it all started more than 20 years ago – building software products of much smaller scale and little complexity. 
  • When you have that single small team that can see the whole horizon from market problem to customer solution, the fundamentals of Agile are easy to get right. 8 people in a garage working together to quickly and iteratively deliver new versions of a solution from a clearly defined set of easy-to-establish priorities.

That Ain’t Agile

  • But the markets we’re serving today – and the problems we’re solving – are significantly more complex and inter-connected. And the rate of change unprecedented. This is true whether technology plays a heavy role in our solution or not. 
  • So what we have in so many organizations is Agile trapped in this execution space over to the far right. Teams have done a bunch of this, and it’s well understood. But for today’s markets and the companies that serve them, this is not yielding the desired results. And it should be clear why… it’s Agile, but Agile for a small part of what it means for a company to serve its customers. It’s agile, but for a small portion of the end-to-end flow. It’s Agile, but it’s half Agile. And half-Agile ain’t Agile.

It’s Time to Come Out

  • For us to become Agile in ways that truly deliver different outcomes – outcomes our customers can feel and measure – we need to take a bigger-picture view. We have to be Agile on purpose from the top.
  • We need to take the great ways of working we’ve learned on the execution side and apply with just as much intentionality and discipline on the strategy side (Market, Customer, Problem).

This brings me back to the definition of Business Agility. Half Agile ain’t Agile. The Agile you’re after – the Agile that yields the benefits you’re looking for – is Agile from end-to-end. Agile across the enterprise. Agile from strategy to execution. 

The ability to produce better business outcomes
by connecting strategy to execution
in ways that enable faster and more accurate
across the enterprise

I’m wondering if this is where Business Agility begins. 

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